Violet’s Parrot

In my reading of Jazz up until the requirements for today’s class, I have been trying to unpack a reoccurring instance that has caught my attention, Violet’s Parrot. I began with a rather obvious initial question– Why a parrot? In an attempt to better understand Morrison’s intent in including the bird in the text, I began my search with a reading of a New York Times Review “My Parrot, My Self:

From the article, it is clear that the author believes that the allure of parrots exists in both the literary world and the “real” world. The author speaks of the BBC covering dozens of stories about parrots, almost every one “prefigured in a folk tale, novel, or poem.” The author specifically focuses on “Speke Parrot”, a poem written in the early 1520’s by Henry VIII’s poet laureate, John Skelton. In this poem, the parrot uses many different languages, and comes to serve as a complication to the argument that the general difference between humans and animals is the acquisition of language. This aspect, layered with the mention of birds in Dante’s inferno in the ring of the lustful, suggests that the Parrot’s inclusion in Morrison’s text highlights the animalistic nature of submitting to lust. Further, this relates to our class discussion about what actually defines the “pure and impure”. As a class, we concluded that Morrison creates many dichotomies when dealing with purity. Thus, the Parrot contributes the muddying of “innocence” when referring to sexuality and virginity within the text.

The article also makes some interesting allusions to the impact of parrots in literature throughout history. It notes that parrots are often related to infidelity, which happens to be a key reoccurrence in Jazz. I also found it interesting that the parrot is in “later medieval European art and literature,” said to have been “associated with the Virgin Mary or the Trinity.” This would relate to the repetition of “threes” that we have seen with the existence of the trilogy itself, and also within the text of Beloved and so far in Jazz. Finally, the article notes that “death is a leading motif in 20th– century parrot fiction”, another reoccurring theme in the novel so far.

In a more general sense, Parrots are also known for their imitation and repeating of the past (which happens to be a reoccurring theme from Beloved as well). The parrot can only say, “I love you”, and this suggests that the phrase must have been picked up from Violet and Joe in happier times. But now as their marriage is in shambles, it serves as a brutal reminder of the happy marriage that they once had. Violet’s lack of naming the Parrot also relates to her inability to cope with the bittersweet memories of her past with Joe.

This repetition of sad soulful emotion by the bird also serves as a connection to the Jazz-like musicality of the text, which became apparent to me after I read Julie’s post on the “Novel’s Embodiment of Jazz Music”. In a sense, birds on a wider basis are often associated with music.  Specifically the “copy-cat” nature of Parrots seems to mimic “Call and Response”, which is a foundational aspect in traditional African based music genres such as Jazz.

To me, it appears to me that the bird’s echoing serves as a structural function of the musical flow of the text, as much as it does an all-inclusive thematic element.

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